DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) and alter switching are actually dependent on each other. Switching obviously means changing, but when associated with DID, switching pertains to changing into another part or another alter, as they are often called. Each of us has parts that compose our personality. You might have at some point in your life, commented once, “A part of me wants to improve my well-being.” For someone to describe a part of himself is perfectly normal, but for those with DID, psychology describes these parts as the ‘extreme parts’ of themselves that have separate beliefs, opinions, needs, thoughts, desires.
The switching is upsetting, difficult, and alarming. If you or someone you know has DID, it is vital that you are aware of the signs of when a person with DID is about to change parts or switch alters, and what one can do about it.
Signs To Watch Out For
Just as each person’s DID differs, alter switching may also be entirely different. Below is a list of experiences or events that might occur when a person with DID is on the verge of, or in the process of changing alters.
- Head gets foggy
- Hearing someone’s voice in one’s head
- Feeling confused and frenzied
- Inability to focus or make decisions appropriately
- Hearing voices from somewhere far, like someone calling from a tunnel
- Staring blankly on the floor or ceiling
- Face affect changing and emotions reflect one’s facial expression
- Changes in handwriting, from clear to messy or vice versa, and from cursive to print or vice versa
- Change in the color and shape of the eyes
- A feeling of detachment in oneself, as if someone else is taking over his body and mind
- Shivers down the spine, as if feeling cold
- Headaches that aren’t cured with pain medication
- Dizziness and light-headedness
- Difficulty making eye contact
- Thinking out loud
- A growing suspicion of the things and people around you
- Taking deep breaths for stress relief
Causes Of Alter Switching
Switching alters in DID are caused by many factors. In some, they are unable to control the switch but they do know what events or circumstances might trigger the switch. Some of the common triggers include:
- Profound and awkward feelings
- Severe stress and fatigue
- Bad or good memories
- Severe anxiety
- Annoying or irritating noise
- Specific times or events of the year
- Reminiscing through old photographs
- Tight places
- Somebody mentioning an alter’s name
- Documenting events or writing a diary
The list above is a nice place to begin when you want to think ahead about the possible circumstances that might elicit a switch. It is good to practice understanding and noticing the triggers so one can prepare himself for what will happen next, for him and his family’s safety.
The switching of alters in DID is believed to occur in order to keep the system safe and functional. The things that happen in the DID system are always for a reason, despite the fact that you and I don’t know the what and the why. It can be a coping mechanism or a defensive reaction to something that it finds as a threat.
When Someone You Love Switches Alters
“Be kind to those suffering just as you would care for someone with the flu,” said Lisa Keith, PsyD.
If you’re still trying to find out what to do when your husband, friend or significant other has started switching alters, then you’re too late. Before this happens, you have to have a plan in place so that you know how to respond to the switch. Part of this plan should include asking questions to the new alter (or the head mate) if circumstances allow. If this is possible, first ask his or her name. Don’t request for the former alter to come out or they’ll feel rejected. Keep in mind that to show that you love someone with DID is to try to love all the alters, as they work together to keep the main person or head mate safe and protected. Stick to the plan of action and do not swerve in a different direction.
Finally, do not be angry or disappointed when an alter leaves and another alter takes his place because it may not even be associated with you at all, and disagreeing with any alter for that matter will never make you a friend or ally.
According to Alicia H. Clark, PsyD, “Friends and loved ones can be a great support.”
If you have DID, remember that your alters have been with you long and strong for most of your life. They, in their own little or major ways, are there to keep you safe and secure. If they have not been a threat to you or your loved ones, you do not need to fight against each other. Instead, be kind to your alters and be friends with them. Just think of the times that they’ve saved you perhaps during the times when you couldn’t save yourself. Help someone by encouraging them to go to therapy. According to Margaret Wehrenberg, PsyD, “Psychotherapy can help sort out the cause, and that leads to the most effective treatment plan.”